Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Summer storms can be worse than winter ones because the branches of trees in leaf - particularly ash and willow - are more likely to break. Last week half of our village, including our house, lost electricity for 27 hours when one of these breaks brought down a power line. The power cut began at 2.30 p.m. At three in the morning I was woken by a telephone call from the burglar alarm company, ADT. They wanted to know if I was being burgled because their computer showed that my alarm was going off (it wasn't). I said I was not being burgled, and that the computer signals were probably related to the power cut. The voice from the company then became suspicious: 'Please could you give proof of your identity, or I shall have to inform the police.' Naturally, I did not know the relevant alarm codes. After about five minutes, though, I managed to persuade the voice on the phone that I was not burgling myself, and I tried to get back to sleep. Twenty minutes later, the burglar alarm went off, because the battery which automatically comes on when power fails had run out. Through the jangling, we telephoned the burglar alarm company. They would send an engineer, they said. From time to time, as dawn began to streak the sky, they rang to say that the engineer was coming. Finally, they rang to say that he wasn't. After two and a half hours, the alarm at last fell silent. Later in the day, the engineer suddenly arrived. He couldn't do anything, he said, because there was (as we had reported) a power cut. The charge would be £58, though. The engineer went away. Luckily, he left his tools behind and had to come back for them. By that time, the power had been restored, so he had no choice but to mend the alarm. In totalitarian countries, the call at three in the morning is from the secret police. In post-modern market economies, it is from a service designed for your convenience.

The death of Anthony Buckeridge, author of the Jennings books, must bring sadness to any prep-school boy of my generation. With his expressions like 'supersonic', 'antiseptic eye-wash', and 'fossilised fish-hooks', Buckeridge was surely the major subliminal literary influence on the editor of this paper. (The Jennings books also contain the earliest known use of the word 'Doh!', later popularised by Homer Simpson; v. Jennings & Darbishire.) Reading Jennings gave me my first experience of comic psychological insight in literature. Somewhere Buckeridge writes, '"I couldn't care less," said Jennings, when, in reality, he could not have cared more.' This entry into the mind of the schoolboy seemed to me (aged about seven) the cleverest, wittiest thing I'd ever read about anything, even funnier than A.A. Milne: '"Are you there, Rabbit?" said Pooh. "No," said Rabbit.'

Buckeridge attended Seaford College in Sussex, in the town of that name which was once the world capital of prep schools. Another old boy of the school is Ahmed Chalabi, the now beleaguered head of the Iraqi National Congress. Poor Dr Chalabi must be needing all that cheerfulness in adversity that used to be taught by those windy cliffs. He has been subject to a fierce campaign of black propaganda from the British and American foreign policy elites which much of the press has repeated as if its truth were proved. …

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